Got 99 Problems But a Bridle Aint One

Got 99 Problems But a Bridle Aint One

I know, I know… eventers already made these lyrics cool with ‘ditch’ instead of bitch, but I don’t do ditches and I don’t do eventing so I work with what I have.

Or in this case, what I don’t have.

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For years I’ve had this little goal of jumping Simon around a course without a bridle. I’ve taken off his bridle before and walk/trot/cantered with relatively little fanfare, but that was about two years and I haven’t tried since.

Last Sunday, I headed to the barn with absolutely 0 motivation. I needed to hack the creature, but that sounded about as attractive to me as a trip to the dentist. When motivation is too low to work on lateral work and transitions, I typically pick a dumb challenge to work on that switches it up for us. On Sunday, I decided to tie a lead rope around Simon’s neck and pick back up our bridleless work.

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After two laps of trotting, I took his bridle off and tossed it on the mounting block. Then I exclusively used my seat/legs and of course the neck rope to steer him around.

We managed walk/trot transitions, circles and trot poles with absolutely no issue. I don’t remember riding him bridleless being all that difficult, but this was remarkably easy.

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The last time I tried this experiment, I cantered but it was only a quick lap or two around the ring. Since I want to be doing courses eventually, I pushed him a little bit more. We cantered circles, cut across the diagonal to do simple changes and in general just did a lot more canter work than before. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear, but he did not yell “FREEEEEEEEDOM” and take off for the next county when we started cantering. Instead, he stayed pretty steady.

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Post cantering is the only time I encountered some “trouble” with him. By this time we’d been riding for a solid twenty minutes or so, and he realized that he really didn’t have a bit. Therefore my downward transitions were a little… expressive.

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For my last canter down transition, he really was like “I LOVE CANTERING. CANTERING IS THE GREATEST. CANTER CANTER CANTER.” I had to pull my ghetto neck rope (more on this later) up a bit on his neck and actually pop a few times as if to say, Dude! Please stop!

He did begrudgingly.

The "Don't want to stop" trot
The “Don’t want to stop” trot

To reinstall the brakes I did a lot of walk/halt/walk/halt/trot/halt/walk/halt transitions in pretty rapid succession. When I felt like he was listening okay again, I trotted and pointed him towards a little log jump in our field. Let me give you a little play by play to Simon’s mentality during this.

“We are nearing a jump, but I probably am not allowed to jump it. 🙁 🙁 🙁 OH WAIT… I AM SUPPOSED TO JUMP IT! I GET TO JUMP IT! I JUMPED IT! NOW I WILL CANTER. OMG I LOVE CANTERING!”

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So that’s how we did our first bridleless jump, and also our last because my horse was jacked up on life afterwards.

Riding without a key piece of tack will show you a lot of your flaws. Here are mine I need to work on:

  • Way better canter down transitions using seat. I’m good at this with the walk and trot, but need a stronger core for the canter.
  • Simon likes to tilt his nose to the outside when tracking left. Pain thing? Training thing? Likes to look outside thing?

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Finally, I need a new neck rope for this. The stirrup leather I used the first time is too short for his beefy neck, and the lead rope I used last weekend is too floppy to be an effective aid. Any advice or links for me? Also am curious for any tips from anyone who’s trained their horse to do something similar!

37 thoughts on “Got 99 Problems But a Bridle Aint One

  1. girl, you are SUPER BRAVE! I am pretty sure Moe would be so jacked up on life that we would canter and canter and canter until I jumped off/he dropped dead.

  2. Simon’s thoughts are so funny! It’s definitely interesting to see how it goes without a bridle, and amazing how much we think we need that piece of metal to control our horses. It’s a mark of how well trained he is these days that he’s so responsive without it. You go!

  3. Very cool, you are both looking good!
    I really need to work on this with Mr P, probably would have been a good winter in the indoor boredom activity which I probably have a couple weeks of left actually. Of course if I was riding him brideless on grass he would just stop and start chowing down.

  4. Go girllll!!! I love to do this at the end of my rides, but I just drop my reins and leave my hands slack at my sides. So, if I need to pick up my reins I can. In the western world, we use a stiff calf rope. They won’t be floppy, have some grit, and they stay in a nice loop.

  5. I have this one… I like it because it’s stiff so it holds it’s shape and IMO is a little easier to use. You can put your hands forward to totally take away the pressure from the neck, move it higher up the neck for a stronger aid, etc. It took me a couple rides to really figure out the best way to use it but once I did, I liked it a lot. http://www.ttouch.com/shop/index.php?productID=217

  6. YES to all of it! Love it! I made my own neck rope and it is perfect. Measure his neck with some slack just how you would like the rope to hang. Go to Home Depot or any store like that and have them cut you a section that big in a soft rope. Then get a double ended clamp, put the rope in, clamp it, and then vet wrap over the clamp once secured so his hair doesn’t get caught in it. It is super strong and yet the rope is still soft so it doesn’t rub and isn’t hard to hold at all. Keep up the work! Pretty soon you will be doing courses like that! Most amazing feeling 🙂

  7. I think the TBs seem to pick up on this a lot easier than other horses. Probably because they are the most perfect. 😉 If you google just plain old “neck rope” a lot of cool options come up. I really want to get one to replace my stirrup leather because they’re definitely too short.

  8. Wow, I feel like our horses have very similar internal monologues. It’s on my list of things to try, but perhaps not on a day when the horses haven’t been turned out in going on two weeks.

  9. This was my favorite thing to do with Don. My neck rope is buried in a box in the closet along with his cooler and a few other things, probably never to see the light of day again.

    Practice the halting, also practice backing up with the neck rope.

    When I started out I also rode with a halter and lead rope as my “energency brake” but thaf was before we made it to cantering and jumping. Don still knew he didn’t have a bit but if he decided to get too wild I had ths lead rope attached to his face.

  10. Hahahah. This went way better than when I tried it in the round pen with Val. He knew 0.2 seconds in that he had no bit, and occasionally chose to oblige my requests. But mostly did what he wanted. We’ll work on it. But it doesn’t surprise me that Simon, being the good boy he is, was so cooperative.

  11. Paige is trained differently where instead of her brakes being hands/rein related, if you remove leg pressure she stops. Makes the bridleless easier. The neck rope is more for steering that way. So basically when I want to stop I just sit deep and throw my legs forward. When bridleless she trucks around with her head in the air, but otherwise is a good girl. 🙂

  12. Uh, those pictures are gorgeous. Simon looks beefy and amazing. I love the third pic of his head silhouetted against the sky.

  13. hahaha this is everything that is awesome!!!! Simon looks so happy too !! i’m pretty sure my mare would love me forever if i would just PUT DOWN THE REINS every once in a while 😉 also – for a neck strap, i often just grab my martingale for steering (or whoa-ing, as the case may be) when i’d rather not touch the reins

  14. So so fun! If I get Foster back I’ll be investing in a proper neck rope.. stirrup leathers just don’t cut it!

    Also, I am uber jealous of your bridleless jumping! I wanted to do this with Foster so so much, but of course jumping was off limits to us by then. Boo!

  15. Wow! Color me impressed! I can barely keep my horses listening with all the tack. I bet I could have ridden Rio without a bridle, but I don’t think any of my current hooligans could handle it.
    That Simon, he’s a special one for sure (I mean that in a nice way)! I love your Simon voice too.

  16. Simon looks so happy! Brave of you too! I love to ride Lucy bridleless, but she’s also spur stop trained so it’s not like it makes much difference one way or another. Can’t imagine jumping though! Most of the WP trainers who ride in the bridleless pleasure classes have cool leather neck straps that look like a single western split rein. Not sure where they find them, but I bet you could make one out of a cheap set of reins.

  17. Very cool! I have never been brave enough to fully take the bridle, though I do attempt at dropping the reins totally from time to time. Sydney is usually good for about five minutes before she decides she is just going to do what she wants to do.

  18. Looks like a fun day to me! Way to go!

    I’ve messed around with some riding without a bridle too. I had the same problems with stirrups leathers and lead ropes that you have. I found a rope specifically made for this type of riding through the Julie Goodnight website online store. Julie Goodnight is a trainer in Colorado and has a TV series called “Horse Master”. The rope I have seems very well made and comes with short instruction guide with pictures and suggestions for bridle-less riding.

  19. So cool!! I have always wanted to do that but I am not sure if my hot spooky guy would kill me lol. You guys make it look so easy!

  20. Ooo, nicely done, I’m mad impressed — thanks for this great reminder! I’ve always wanted to do this; I have ridden Solo on the trails by a rein around his neck (um, he shook his bridle off at the flies & I was bareback & I didn’t want to try to get back on, LOL), but have never had the gumption to try to do it properly. Solo would no doubt have done what HE felt like, but Encore is such a work horse — thank you for a great idea for “things to do while we can’t do circles!”

  21. Tip: For the downward transition from canter, three strides from where you would like to downward transition, make sure you’ve taken a deep breath in then count down the strides in your head: three, two, one, EXHALE and as you exhale, drop your weight and think “trot” or “woah”.

    I found that on the exhale I automatically dropped my weight and relaxed anyway and that’s where my horse got his cue from. I’ve never tried it bridleless but since the dressage lesson in which I was taught it, it changed all my downward transitions forever and made me far less reliant on my hand aids. It also made me feel like I had that magical telepathic connection with my horse! Hope it helps!

    Breanne

    P.S. I’m loving your blog!

  22. Wow. So brave! I sometimes have panic riding on the buckle. Also I think that my horse really would beeline for the next town… or maybe just to the nearest patch of grass.

  23. I can just see Simon’s eyes light up. JUMPING. CANTERING. I’ve ridden him once for like 20 minutes and even I know those are his favorite things!

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